Sunday 26 March 2017

Stay Classy

Baguettes, not regrets!
Top Tip: Pretend to be incredibly posh by professing a lack of knowledge about the most commonplace items. (Andrew Male ‏@Andr6wMale)

Some incomers slag off us Brits for having a class system, some like to point it out in case we hadn’t noticed it was there, others come here precisely because we still have an aristocracy - because they want to join it. They used to settle near Brompton Oratory and shop at the best emporia (Peter Jones, Harrods, Fortnums, the Tao Clinic).

One thing everybody agrees on – the English class system is different now. It’s based on money, not blue blood, says Professor Mike Savage in Social Class in the 21st Century. He shows – with graphs – that those from a “posh” background earn several thousands more a year. He quotes interviewees verbatim: those who claim not to be snobs are the funniest. If comfortably off, they put it down to their thrifty lifestyles, not their inherited wealth or high-paying jobs. “The point here is that class today stems not only from economic capital but also from social and cultural factors, ” says the Times review. Just like the history of Britain for the past 500 years.

And perhaps when people say “there’s no class system any more”, they mean “It’s not like Downton Abbey, with Lords and servants”. No, it’s about very thin layers of the middle classes despising the people in the next layer for eating the wrong food, or having the wrong kind of curtains, or speaking slang, or picking up Americanisms, or misusing the checkout divider, or being ignorant about apostrophes. And it always was.

The media is mainly staffed by the middle classes because these days the entry point is university/unpaid internships. They know they’re not supposed to be prejudiced, but somehow snobbery isn’t “prejudice”.

Tatler is doing “the new snobbery” again, Dec 2016. It always has to be “new” because we have to pretend the “old snobbery” has gone away. Nancy Mitford’s U and Non-U (1954) is a bit out of date, they say. No more sneering about “piercings, carnations, paper napkins, the words “mirror” and “liquid soap”. But the following are still beyond the pale: visible bra straps, coloured toilet paper, vulgar celebrities, fake Christmas trees, people who don’t have books, red cars, baby showers, talking about money, “lounge” for sitting room, clinking glasses and saying “cheers!”. Telegraph agony aunt Mary Killen says that “anyone who puts a glass down without a coaster gives away that they did not grow up in a house with polished furniture.” Mary, it’s more complicated than that. You can’t put down a glass or mug on a polished table, but coasters are irredeemably naff. Caro Stow Crat leaves magazines around so that guests have something to put their glasses down on. In earlier times, polished tables were protected by cloths, mats and runners – perhaps we should revive these?

The Duchess of Devonshire "understood what artists were trying to say...and had these wonderful people from all backgrounds come to stay [at Chatsworth]." (Historian Maxwell Craven)

Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris and editor of the Lady magazine, wrote about the new snobbery in Times (2016-02-17)

According to her, the new status symbols are:
Five children, to whom you give very plain names like “Johnny” and send to state schools (avoiding “Eton disorder”).
Holidays at your second home in the UK, or the country homes of your family and friends (not crowded, expensive “abroad”).

A dark blue and grey colour scheme for your home (stone is so ovah).

A Land Rover Defender (discontinued so now hard to get and exclusive).
A lab-collie cross (a “working dog” – a Lollie?).
Impromptu suppers with friends (not competitive birthday parties in castles or on Greek islands).

You should always look as if you have just come from a Pilates class in a plain but top-quality T shirt and skinny jeans.

And eat carbs – we’ve reached “peak kale”.

An Aga – even in “hunting green” like the Duchess of Devonshire. “She had a penchant for kitsch – it is important to have ugly and funny things, otherwise it looks as if you’ve got what John Betjeman called ‘ghastly good taste’.” (You can feel Rachel cringing in the duchess’s kitchen, desperately trying to think up an excuse for the titled lady’s “bad taste” green Aga. According to Jilly Cooper, the aristocracy can do whatever they like – even hang a deodoriser block in the loo that turns the water bright blue. Agas are supposed to be cream, but the Duchess probably got her Aga in the 80s when navy and red were also available. Real aristocrats don’t update their décor, either.)

It’s OK, apparently, to make ill-informed and unfunny jibes at the middle classes. The recent March for Europe was allegedly full of people called Tarquinius and Fiona, and Waitrose was empty. Admittedly, someone was wielding a placard written in Latin. And a man in a white ponytail carried a poster that read METROPOLITAN CROISSANT-EATER. And you can always accuse Upwards of latte-sipping and quinoa-munching, especially if they're socialists. You'd think people would have got over middle-class socialists by now – we've been around since the 19th century at least. But OK, be like that then. We won’t turn up next time.

The Adam Smith Institute has commissioned a report proving that well-off activists are just “virtue signalling”, so there's nothing to worry about. Exec director Sam Bowman says: "New aristocrats prefer to show off their privilege with hard-to-get retro clothes and objects, studying obscure subjects at university or even taking loud, outrage-driven political positions, or making conspicuous donations to sometimes wasteful charities... undertaking costly actions to demonstrate they are not complicit in the globalised, liberalised, capitalist order of the 21st century, even though they are the very elite of that order.” Not that he’s biased at all, you understand. That’s just inconspicuous consumption, though in the 80s I did wonder why all the anti-capitalist lefties had mortgages and pension schemes... But when they said “capitalism”, they may have just meant “you know, nasty stuff”. (And that’s where all the broadsheets and Tweeters got the “virtue signalling” stuff from.)

Michael Gove recommends dropping Art History A Level, and some say that’s OK because “It’s just for posh white girls anyway”. Just insert any other group – it’s OK to drop geology because “It’s just for nerds”, or dance because “It's just for short people”, or...

It's tough being an Upward. There’s always something we’ve got to feel guilty about: eating too much, not recycling enough, not having the right attitude to whatever’s happening today, not having tasteful enough Christmas decorations, not being hip or cool enough, not excluding enough foods from our children’s diet. Why is it never “drinking too much", or "being sarcastic"?

Every year during the traditional Great Poppy Debate, Upwards tie themselves in knots trying to find their own unique reasons for either wearing or not wearing. What if the presence or absence of a poppy signals a reason somebody else has bagged already?

Garrison Keillor sums us up: "We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses."

Don't let the side downI got shouted at by a phlebotomist for putting my stuff on the floor (tidy Teales hang everything up). And I was gently and politely eased out of the Pringle sweater shop (jeans, anorak, school lanyard, Labour sticker – obviously couldn’t afford the clothes they were selling). I hear the same thing happens in car dealerships. And schoolchildren are banned from the Leisure Centre café. But, as a friend points out, Web sites have no choice but to be egalitarian.

We don't want to be "those whom to know is to be unknown", quipped Anne Shirley (of Green Gables), wondering whether to befriend an unpopular girl at college. When I was younger, friends were always giving me recipe books. They wanted me to break my journey home and go to a “good” fishmonger. I had to eat adult food, the kind you would cook for a dinner party, or the kind you would cook for a partner, even though I’m just me and I can live on chips, takeaways and Tesco’s microwaveable meals if I like. But there I go, letting the class side down! I have to eat middle-class food even when I’m on my own and nobody can see me. (I could have lied – perhaps they expected me to!) They also used to bully me to give dinner parties – was this so that they could make sure I knew how to cook proper food, even if it was only spag bol? And they pretended to be worried about my health!

See also “How can you live in London, Oxford Street is so ghastly?” When pushed, they explain that they mean “crowded”. But it’s a shopping street, of course it’s crowded. Of course what they really mean is “crowded with the wrong kind of people”. I ought to know that we have to keep the plebs (literally) at arm’s length, and we mustn’t go to places where they go, where we might even have to touch them in a crowd! How can they know someone who thinks there’s nothing wrong with Oxford Street and even does her shopping there?

Class is dead, long live class.

More here, and links to the rest.

1 comment:

  1. Americans firmly believe they live in a classless society - but actually they are just as bad as Brits. In the end - when your son or daughter brings a partner home, you want to know all about them and their background, you want to place them. You are not necessarily going to judge them, but you like to know. And that's the same in US, UK, China Russia - everywhere.